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Blind food & wine matching?

How do you choose wine to match food, if you don’t know what’s on the menu? Last weekend I picked wine for the tasting menu of a top Michelin-starred restaurant, without a clue what it would be.

Chef/proprietor Roger Jones, of The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, sometimes offers deals if you work in the wine trade. February’s bargain was the £80 menu for just £30, with no corkage! With some eager friends I caught the 11.18 from Paddington: I had a rucksack full of wine and my fingers crossed.  

Wine 1 was easy: pink Champagne from a small grower, Raymond Fliniaux. A great aperitif and lovely with Torbay crab cocktail.  

Wine 2 was an offbeat all-rounder: Elena Walch’s cult Italian white ‘Beyond the Clouds’. I thought the oaked, multi-grape blend would cope with anything, and I was proved right (or lucky) when chilli squid with sweet belly pork appeared. Perfection!  

Wine 3 was a big risk: even good bottles of 1985 Stag’s Leap Winecellars are delicate now. I thought I’d blown it when a venison dish came out. To my astonishment the meat was so mild and delicate, it was delightful with the wine. It turns out that Roger’s venison comes from Northumberland and doesn’t toughen up whilst dodging cars!  

Wine 4 was a banker: surely 1996 Barbaresco Martinenga, Marchesi di Gresy could handle any meat course? Welsh Black beef sounded ideal, and would have been, if the bottle wasn’t corked. It was such a pity, and Roger’s wine list had to rescue us.  

Roger’s food was exquisite, so would I have chosen those particular wines if I’d known the menu in advance? Probably not. But it worked, it was fun, and it proves we shouldn’t get too uptight about the whole food matching lark. Maybe I should try it at Hakkasan?

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